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5 Things Dad Owned That I Don’t

01/09/2013

It’s Father’s Day here in New Zealand, a day that elicits mixed emotions in my family.

It will be 12 years this December since Dad died of a heart attack in the middle of the night. It was his second, the first having been just severe enough for him to make some lifestyle changes and focus more on his health. He still worked long hours in a stressful job and remained involved with events within the community, but at least it was something. The evening before the big one hit he had attended a dinner celebrating his time as Scout Leader in our local Troop (just over 10 years, by my count) and was looking forward to taking it easy for a bit. Fate’s a fickle bitch like that.

For this Father’s Day I’m going to look back at Dad’s life in rather specific way. There have been a lot of advances in the last decade, so I’m going to look at some of his possessions that no longer play a part in my life.

Ties
Ahh, the old corporate noose – the sign that someone is truly professional and means business. That’s all nice and good, unless you’re like me and find the damn things fiddly and uncomfortable. Dad felt the same way, and it was something of a coup when his boss allowed him to go tie-free at work. He still owned the damned things, however. About a half-dozen or so resided in a drawer in his dresser, along with handkerchiefs and other knickknacks. I think he had a couple that were special or given as gifts, but otherwise they were pretty unremarkable. He wore them when occasion demanded, but probably spent more time in his Scout scarf. At least that had some functional uses.

In my life I have owned exactly one tie. It was a 21st birthday gift from friends, a piece of merchandise for my home town’s rugby team – The Otago Highlanders. It was bright yellow and featured a stylised highland warrior in blue, claymore held high in one hand and a full kilt wrapped around his body. Add in some lighting and a stag and you’d be mistaken for thinking it referred to a certain movie that never had any sequels. I did wear another tie for a while, but that was a pre-tied elastic neck-band affair that was part of my uniform while working at  a supermarket. Since then, the only thing to hang around my neck has been the lanyard attached to my work ID card. I’ve managed to spend 11 years within a major national company without once needing to don a tie. Long may that situation reign.

There go my teenage self's career aspirations

There go my teenage self’s career aspirations

Analogue Cameras
Dad had a thing for photography. Okay, maybe more than a thing. He loved it and had albums full of photos he had taken, as well as boxes filled with hundreds of slides. I’m not sure how he got started, but by the time I was old enough he had a good selection of bodies and lenses, as well as all the accessories to keep them working. A lot of my aversion to having my photo taken comes from his eagerness to take family photographs wherever and whenever possible, an often laborious exercise as he fiddled with shutter speed and f-stops to get the perfect image. There was one thing about cameras he wasn’t a fan of however, digital cameras. Back then, they were still in the early stages of development and were more point-and-shoot (and pray the image was decent) affairs with limited mega pixels and functions. Barely good enough for taking photos of your crotch and sending them to people on Twitter (which wouldn’t be invented for another 5 years). There were higher-end cameras, but these were often very expensive and well out of reach of most photographers.

A decade later, almost everybody has a camera capable of capturing both still images and video. Digital SLRs are still rather expensive, but within reach of a lot more people. The explosion in the range of devices has led to the rise of sites like YouTube and Flickr, where people can share their content with the world at the click of a button. That doesn’t mean that it’s all high quality, though. A skilled photographer can still do more with a cheap camera than an amateur can with a $2000 kit, but the gap is closing. I studied photography in high school, and while the basics of shutter speed and f-stops are the same, there are whole sections of that course that no longer apply. As a teen what a ‘dark room’ is and they’re likely to tell you it’s a room where the lights are off. While I do sometimes miss the art and science that went into turning a roll of film in to prints, I prefer the modern system where I can instantly review my shot, figure out if anything’s wrong, then take another, better photo on the spot. That’s a fair trade, even if it does mean living in a world with billions of Instagram selfies.

The horror. The horror.

The horror. The horror.

As much as Dad disliked the early digital camera, I think he would have loved the ones available today. They are basically the same device he used to use, but with one key advantage – you don’t have to pay for film.

LPs
I still remember finding my Dad’s old LPs in the back of the wardrobe one day. In hindsight, some may have belonged to my Mum, but it’s Father’s Day so let’s pretend they were all his. There weren’t a lot of them, Neil Diamond’s Hot Summer’s Night, a couple from Simon and Garfunkel and The Beatles (these were probably Mum’s), and some Kubrick, namely the soundtracks for [A] Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey. At this point in my life my musical knowledge extended as far as what I heard on the radio, so the albums didn’t mean anything to me. We also didn’t have a record player in the house, so there was no easy way for me to find out anything more about their contents until years later.

Fast forward to today and I’m much more clued up on these artists. I even own a couple of the albums (the Kubrick soundtracks) although mine take the form of CDs and MP3s. Music really has come a long way in the last decade, at least in terms of accessibility and usability. We had to suffer through the era of the Di-di-di-discman to get here, but it was well worth it. Things have progressed so far that LPs are actually coming back into fashion again. Not with your average consumer, but with the musical purists who insist they have a better sound quality and DJs who find it difficult to ‘scratch’ digital formats. For me, it’s an issue of space. My current MP3 player holds hundreds of tracks that I can sort into folders, add to playlists, or simply play on random until the battery runs out. If I replicated that with LPs I’d end up carrying around a few kilograms worth of vinyl.

Like digital cameras, I think my Dad would be happy with the way technology has progressed. Just as long as he could have Leonard Cohen’s back catalog in his pocket.

Try doing that with your record player

Try doing that with your record player

Filing cabinet/document folder
I imagine most of you are old enough to remember a time when they printed bills on paper and sent them to you in the post. It was a system that worked, well most of the time, though it did leave us with a lot of paper that was only good for reference purposes and testing dying pens. Dad’s solution to this ever-growing dead tree was a concertina document folder. A simplified briefcase filled with labelled pockets that could hold a surprisingly large amount. Well labelled pockets made it a breeze to go back through months, or even years, of records. Not something you had to do very often, depending on your situation.

These days it’s all online bills, cloud storage, and USB thumb drives. Companies are starting to phase out paper bills (which are surprisingly expensive to produce) and advances in smartphone technology mean I can check my bank balance or phone bill from just about anywhere. I haven’t received a paper statement for either in years. All this advancement has meant that the humble folder is now surplus to requirements for almost everyone. Relegated to storing newspaper clippings and receipts – and even then every time I’m in America I see ads for receipt scanners, so that’s one more nail in the coffin.

You might think that all this technology would make it easy to keep the documents I do download in some sort of logical structure. Yeah, nah. At least it’s easier to search though a few hundred documents on a computer than it is with hard copies.

Most of the time

Most of the time

Trains
Dad was a geek. He wasn’t a gamer, or a roleplayer, he wasn’t even technically called a geek. He was a model railway enthusiast. Our garage was mostly given over to his layout, an oval track with sidings and scenery based on an actual station in the UK. Dad was such a perfectionist that it was perpetually under construction, up to the day he died. He didn’t get a lot of time to spend on the layout, but he was immensely proud of it nonetheless. If my brothers and I were good we’d get to have a go on it, but always with supervision. Dad was also a member of one of the local model railway clubs, whose meetings were held at different club members houses. I never attended any of the meetings (even the ones at our place), but from what I gathered they were a good bunch of guys. Not the anorak-wearing neckbeards who are often associated with these sorts of hobbies. I say hobby, but it’s a bit more than that. A lot of work goes into an average layout; layout planned in detail, tracks electrified, and landscapes and buildings constructed and painted. It’s the sort of work that might boggle the mind of the average wargamer.

I never got into railway modelling, though I did consider it. For starters, you need a permanent location to build your track. This isn’t the sort of hobby you can easily pursue when you’re flatting. I went for the much more portable option of wargaming and roleplaying. Sure, a large wargaming army could number hundreds of models, but they’re also fairly easy to move around. It seems like wargaming is more of a young person’s hobby, which does make sense. Model trains are often very detailed with a number of intricate parts and prices for a single engine can climb into the hundreds of dollars. Even without scenery and detailed terrain you could still easily spend over a thousand dollars on a layout. These prices make even Games Workshop’s prices seem reasonable. You’re also a lot less likely to electrocute yourself while assembling a Land Raider.

Exceptions do apply

Exceptions do apply

Looking back, I now see that Dad and I are not as different as we first might have appeared. Sure, technology and methods may have changed, but some things are still essentially the same.

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